How the Celebrity Chef Culture Is Changing Events

By Libby Hoppe, June 17, 2014

Our desire to know who’s cooking our food and where our food comes from has changed the way we experience meals at meetings and events. With celebrity chefs like Food Network’s Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri and more, television
has transformed the way Americans and diners worldwide think of the people who prepare their food, acknowledging the skill, science and art of meal preparation.

“Gone are the days when guests were satisfied with the standard banquet fare—the bland rubber chicken, unimaginative hors d’oeuvres and dull dessert. Now, event attendees have more discerning palates, are familiar with terms like sous-vide and molecular gastronomy, and want to know who the chef is and if the ingredients are local.” That was the description for a panel session at the Event Innovation Forum at BizBash IdeaFest Chicago.

Brittany Ferrin, a participant in the panel and executive chef and owner of local caterer Truffleberry Market, says chefs aren’t just introducing people to different foods, but to different cultures. “Chefs like Anthony Bourdain are going deep into food culture around the world and presenting them in a way that you cannot help but be absorbed by the possibilities of these different cultures,” she told F&B expert Tahira Endean in an interview during IdeaFest.

Event chefs aren’t necessarily creating different foods for the sake of being different. They are helping to create a specialized event experience that is unique to a specific place or region, reminding attendees of the importance of location and how it affects the food we eat.

The celebrity chef culture, then, is as much about the chef as it is the type of cuisine in which they specialize. And that type of food is so tied to place, it’s hard to distinguish between the two. On “Top Chef,” Bravo’s cooking competition show, the chefs often talk about their specialized skills in terms of where they’re from. New Orleans. Seattle. Saint Lucia. Oklahoma. It’s also significant that most chefs—you know, the ones who cook with heart and know their ingredients so intimately—source their ingredients locally. They serve fresh-caught grouper and lobster in the Florida Keys, and they know how to prepare beef and pork in the Heartland.

Wanting to know who’s cooking our food and where they’re sourcing their ingredients has become less of a trend and more of an expectation, and that’s when you know a significant shift has happened. As one chef said during an event a few years back, “It’s easier for us, but harder for planners,” but, he added, “it’s getting better. They’re giving me more freedom to help plan menus for them.”

Photo credit: Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel

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